Sinn Fein says Simon Harris ‘failing his way to very top’

Opposition parties called for a general election as they criticised Mr Harris’s nomination as taoiseach.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said a change of government is needed
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said a change of government is needed (Niall Carson/PA)

Simon Harris has “failed” his way to the top of the Irish Government, Sinn Fein said.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald repeated her party’s call for a general election as she launched a broadside against Mr Harris ahead of the Fine Gael leader’s appointment as taoiseach.

Ms McDonald said: “Another Fine Gael taoiseach is the last thing the people need. We need a change of leadership, we need a change of government.”

Discussing Mr Harris’s record in office before the vote to nominate him as the next taoiseach, she said: “Not so long ago Simon Harris was the minister for health and on his watch hospital overcrowding spun out of control, the trolley crisis escalated and the treatment waiting list hit one million patients for the very first time.”

She said that the “scandalous cost” of the National Children’s Hospital also grew, and that a promise Mr Harris made on child scoliosis waiting lists had been “disgracefully broken again and again”.

Ms McDonald said Mr Harris’s appointment was part of the Irish Government’s narrative that “dresses up failure as progress”.

The Sinn Fein leader said the Government had presented its third taoiseach in four years.

“For the third time you rearrange the Cabinet deck chairs. For the third time in four years, you pat each other on the back and tell the people what a great job you’re doing,” she said.

“The narrative we hear today from Government is a fairy tale so egregious that Hans Christian Andersen himself would be proud of it.”

Fine Gael leader Simon Harris and former taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Fine Gael leader Simon Harris and former taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

She added: “It’s your century-old cosy club, circling the wagons once again to cling to power at all costs.

Insisting on a general election, she said: “I believe that the people of Ireland deserve so much better.”

She added: “If you really believe that your Government has the support of the people, then you should go before the people and get that mandate.”

Speaking in the Dail on Tuesday, she also criticised Fine Gael’s current coalition partners.

“Fianna Fail refused to vote confidence in Simon Harris as minister for health in 2020 – it caused an election, if you all recall. Today, they dutifully line up to vote him in as taoiseach, joined at the hip by a group of independent TDs,” she said.

“Now out there in the real world, the experience is that if you fail and fail again, you get your P45. However, in the world of this Government – Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens – it seems you can fail your way right to the very, very top.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said her party would not support a “cosmetic” change-over at the head of the government as she also restated her call for a general election.

Ms Bacik joked that Mr Harris’s “new energy” slogan sounded like a “Star Wars tagline”.

She said Ireland was a country of “profound inequalities”, adding she doubted Mr Harris could deliver necessary change.

Irish Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik
Irish Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik (Damien Storan/PA)

“Unfortunately from what we have heard so far, his elevation today will not deliver the change that we need,” she told the Dail.

“And that’s why we in the Labour Party cannot support the Fine Gael nomination for taoiseach.

“The appointment of another temporary taoiseach by this coalition is just more superficial change, cosmetic change, not the radical change that people so badly need.

“That’s why we have called for a general election now, not just a change of taoiseach.”

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said that, on a personal note, she wished Simon Harris well, but added that a new Government was also needed.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns
Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns

“We are facing serious challenges as a country, and in order to address them we need new ideas – for that we need a new Government,” she said.

Ms Cairns said “radical change” is needed to tackle crises in housing, healthcare, disability services, childcare and climate action.

“The change that we need cannot be delivered by a taoiseach from the same party, with the same programme for government and the same policies,” she added.

“The issues we face and will continue to face will worsen until we elect a government with a fundamentally new approach.”

Ahead of Mr Harris’s appointment, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was not acceptable that scheduled Dail business was being replaced with a “jamboree” to elect a new taoiseach, and Mattie McGrath, from the Rural Independents grouping, described the process as a “charade”.